A short story I recently read

‘Anything Could Disappear’ by Danielle Evans

Read it here in about 60 minutes.

Thinking about why I liked it…

The sparse but specific details build the story and characters. For example, in the first paragraph Vera’s twenty-four-hour bus journey is compressed into a mixture of impressions from the different stops on the journey: ‘From Chicago to Cleveland, she had sat next to a perfectly cordial man who had just finished a ten‑year prison sentence and was on his way home from Texas with nothing but his bus ticket and twenty dollars in his pocket. Between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, there had been a man who kept trying to get her to share a blanket with him, citing their proximity to the air‑conditioning vent, and between Pittsburgh and Philly, a teenage runaway had sat beside her and talked her ear off.’ The characters she meets are suggestive; if these are the sort of people who travel by Greyhound, what does this tells us about Vera? She’s a mystery – we know only that she’s ‘moving to New York on a Greyhound bus, carrying only a duffel bag’; this creates a compelling story opening, but actually we never learn much about her past, except that she dropped out of university, she’s twenty-one, she wants something more from life.

Throughout the entire story, I never knew what was going to happen next. Surely, walking off with someone else’s child should have consequences (as in, the police will be alerted, she’ll be arrested, she’ll be thrown in jail and no-one will believe what really happened); but this doesn’t happen. It’s revealed that Vera is delivering drugs to New York; I expected her to be drawn into that murky world, but actually her new life on the periphery of drug crime is comfortable and safe (as in, no harm comes to her or William, and she isn’t living in squalor). And in relation to this, Vera makes choices/behaves in ways I wouldn’t myself, such as not contacting the police about the boy in the first instance; treating him as her son, even telling people he’s hers; having a relationship with her boss, the drug courier…

I loved the idea of William: the cute, giggling little boy who charms everyone; the silent and calm child, who doesn’t disrupt her life in the way a child should (no midnight waking, no tantrums, no loss of self to motherhood); the warm little human who happily accepts Vera, who needs her, who seems to love her back, and whose time in her life changes her. William is the reason she tells herself she must cut contact with her old life – deleting Facebook, getting a new phone number, ending her weekly calls to her mother – because, she reasons, any of these things might reveal she has acquired someone else’s child, and land her in trouble; and returning him to his father, at the end of the story, becomes the ultimate excuse she uses as to why she must disappear forever – this wasn’t necessary; these were choices she made.

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